Chapter 3 Tobacco industry pricing, price-related marketing and lobbying

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1 Chapter 3 Tobacco industry pricing, price-related marketing and lobbying Introduction The effectiveness of tobacco taxation and other price-related policies depends in large part on how tobacco companies respond through both their lobbying efforts to prevent tax increases or influence excise policies and their pricing and price-reducing marketing strategies. In general, tobacco product tax increases will lead to increases in the price of these products, with the extent of the price increase varying based on how much or little of the tax increase the industry decides to pass on to consumers (which may vary brand by brand within the same market) and whether it raises prices on top. Two 2009 tax increases illustrate this clearly. In April 2009, the federal cigarette excise tax in the United States was increased by US$ per pack, with US cigarette companies passing on the full amount of the tax increase and raising prices further (e.g. Philip Morris USA raised prices on its leading brands by US$0.71 per pack and on other brands by US$0.78 per pack). In contrast, in May 2009, China modified its tax structure and increased taxes on most cigarette brands, but the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration and Chinese National Tobacco Co. kept retail cigarette prices at the same level as they were before the tax increase. In addition to its direct pricing strategies, tobacco companies can influence price through a variety of price-reducing marketing efforts. These include: the distribution of free samples of their products, the distribution of coupons through print advertising and direct mail, on packaging, and via their web sites;; retail value-added promotions that involve free cigarettes (e.g. buy-one-get-one-free offers);; and direct price discounts implemented through payments to distributors and retailers (e.g. through buydowns trade programs). In addition, other marketing techniques provide added value at the same price and can be thought of as pricereducing marketing, broadly defined. These include: retail value-added promotions that involve non-tobacco items (e.g. a free lighter with the purchase of two packs of cigarettes);; and specialty item distribution (e.g. giveaways of various branded or unbranded products upon redemption of coupons or other proof of purchase, as in the Marlboro Miles and Camel Cash programmes). From the tobacco companies perspective, such price-reducing marketing efforts have advantages over direct pricing strategies in that they can be more narrowly targeted to particular segments of the market. For example, price-reducing promotions can be used subnationally to reduce the immediate impact of subnational tax increases, can be applied to a limited number of brands (e.g. those used by populations of particular interest, such as young people), or directed to more price-sensitive consumers (e.g. distribution of coupons via direct mail to selected users). Finally, tobacco companies can use their political influence to lobby policymakers to oppose tobacco tax increases or support tax rollbacks, alter tax structures in a way favourable to at least some companies, resist earmarking of tobacco tax revenues for tobacco control programs, and/or minimize the use and impact of other policies that aim to increase tobacco product prices. Similarly, tobacco 31

2 IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention companies work behind closed doors with Ministries of Finance and others to provide guidance on tax levels and tax structures, as well as other aspects of tax administration (Gilmore et al., 2007). Such overt and covert activities can weaken the effectiveness of tax and price policies in reducing tobacco use and its consequences. This chapter provides a review of these issues. The first section provides a discussion of industry pricing strategies generally and of how tobacco product prices change in response to changes in tobacco taxes specifically. This is followed by a review of the variety of pricerelated marketing strategies used by tobacco companies, and the limited empirical evidence on the use of price-reducing promotions in response to tax increases and other tobacco control policies. We then turn to a discussion of industry lobbying efforts to shape policy decisions concerning tobacco excise taxes, providing a systematic review of the limited empirical evidence on these activities between 1985 and The final section discusses interventions to reduce industryrelated price manipulation and lobbying. Methods A systematic approach was taken to searching for literature relevant to this chapter. In total, 13 electronic databases were searched between October 2009 and March These covered academic research and grey literature (i.e. manuscripts, reports, technical notes or similar documents produced and distributed by governmental agencies, academic centers or other non-commercial publishing entities). Full details of the electronic databases and web sites, and the keywords, and terms used to drive searches are available in Appendix. We also consulted several key experts in the field (many of whom are involved in authoring this volume) and put a call on GLOBALink, the most commonly used informationexchange point for tobacco control researchers and practitioners, to identify other papers. Although our search strategy should have captured most studies that explore the issues covered in this chapter in any detail, it is possible that some references have been missed, particularly those in languages other than English. While we had aimed to limit the evidence to scientific publications obtained via the search strategies above, the evidence base, particularly in relation to parts (a) (tobacco industry pricing strategies), (b) (price-related marketing) and (d) (interventions to reduce industry price manipulation and lobbying), was limited, with most of the empirical studies limited to the USA and a few other high- or high-middle income countries. For this reason, the first two sections explain industry behaviour using theory and observation before turning to the empirical evidence, and the fourth section outlines policy options, highlighting any relevant academic literature. Tobacco industry pricing strategies Background: Market structure Historically, industry pricing strategies have varied considerably across countries given the significant differences in the structures of tobacco product markets in different countries. Many markets were controlled by a domestic, often government-run, tobacco monopoly whose primary objective may not have been profit maximization. Others were more fragmented, with several smaller companies competing more aggressively with others. Still others were oligopolistic, dominated by a few large firms that together controlled nearly the entire market. As a result, pricing strategies varied widely, with more competitive markets likely to see lower prices and more price competition than more concentrated markets. Over the past two decades, the markets for tobacco products have become increasingly concentrated and globalized as a result of privatization of government-run tobacco monopolies, reduced barriers to trade in tobacco and tobacco products, increased direct investments by multinational tobacco companies, and consolidation through mergers and acquisitions. Together, worldwide, the top five cigarette companies (Chinese National Tobacco Co. (CNTC), Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco (JT), and Imperial Tobacco Group (ITG)) account for more than 80% of global cigarette production and consumption (Euromonitor International, 2009). Excluding CNTC, which operates almost entirely in China with little competition from other companies, the top four companies account for about 70% of global production and consumption. As shown in Table 3.1 for leading cigarette markets globally and in Europe, in most countries cigarette markets are dominated by some combination of these four companies. The 3-firm concentration ratio illustrates the highly concentrated nature of these markets other than in Indonesia, just three firms control at least 80% of the market, and in many markets the top three firms account for more than 90% (Gilmore et al., 2010). 32

3 Tobbaco industry pricing, price-related marketing and lobbying Table 3.1. Cigarette market shares (%) by global brand owner for the major cigarette markets, 2008 Company Brazil Canada China Germany India Indonesia Italy Japan Russian Federation UK USA Philip Morris International Inc British American Tobacco Plc Japan Tobacco Inc Imperial Tobacco Group Plc China National Tobacco Corp (CNTC) 98 ITC Group* 58.3 Golden Tobacco Ltd 10.9 VST Industries Ltd 9.2 Godfrey Phillips India Ltd** 0.4 Gudang Garam Tbk Ltd** 28.3 Djarum PT 13.8 Bentoel Internasional investama Tbk PT 5.9 Nojorono Tobacco Indonesia PT 5.5 Philip Morris USA Inc 48.4 Reynolds American Inc* 26.5 Lorillard Inc 10.1 Liggett Vector Brands Inc 1.8 Societé industrielle des Tabacs du Cameroun SA 1.4 Donskoi Tabak OAO 3.7 Private label Others Total No. of companies with market share >10% No. of companies with market share over 25% firm concentration ratio (cumulative share of market of 3 biggest companies by market share) Table reproduced with permission from Gilmore et al., Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics. Data obtained: 23 September 2009 # Data given for the world s largest cigarette markets (China, Russia, USA, Japan, Indonesia, Ukraine, Brazil, India), plus the 2 largest European markets (Italy and Germany) and the UK NB where companies other than those listed have a market share of 1% or less, their share has been added to the «other» category *Part owned by BAT. **Part owned by Philip Morris International 33

4 IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention This market concentration gives the tobacco companies greater pricing power and profitability, which in turn may present problems to public health as further explored below (Gilmore et al., 2010). Similar patterns are emerging in markets for other tobacco products, although to a lesser extent than in cigarette markets and with greater variability across countries. Globally, non-cigarette product markets are becoming increasingly concentrated, and distinctions between cigarette companies and other tobacco product companies are disappearing as major cigarette manufacturers have acquired leading smokeless tobacco product manufacturers (e.g. Altria s (parent company for Philip Morris USA) acquisition of US Smokeless Tobacco Co. in 2008 and Reynolds American s acquisition of Conwood in 2006) and have begun using the same brands across product lines (e.g. Marlboro and Camel cigarettes and snus) (McNeill and Sweanor, 2009). The acquisition of independent smokeless manufacturers will, by reducing competition between cigarettes and smokeless products, increase the market power (their ability of to set prices) of the resulting multiproduct tobacco companies. However, in some countries, where a much wider variety of tobacco products is available, the markets for non-cigarette tobacco products remain fragmented and highly competitive (e.g. India, where there are thousands of small bidi producers). Background: Individual company interests Different companies vary in their brand portfolios and thus in their preference for excise structures. This is illustrated through industry lobbying on tobacco taxes in Europe, where different Member States must agree on a shared excise framework. Historically the southern European countries had state monopolies or small national industries and thus sought ad valorem systems to both protect their cheaper cigarettes made using domestic tobacco and to enable them to compete with higher-priced premium brands from the larger producers (Gilmore and McKee, 2004a). By contrast, the transnationals favoured a wholly specific system to help protect their more expensive brands. A similar pattern continues to this day with, for example, PMI (whose high-price brand Marlboro is the leader in many markets) favouring a fully specific system, Imperial Tobacco (which has a mixed portfolio) favouring a mixed ad valorem and specific system, and the small Greek companies lobbying for a fully ad valorem system. This issue is covered further in the third section. Tobacco industry pricing strategies In general, tobacco product markets that have large numbers of producers producing slightly differentiated products will see a relatively high degree of price competition, with prices largely reflecting the costs of production and distribution (including taxes). At the other extreme, markets that are entirely or nearly monopolized by a single, profit-maximizing firm will see prices well above costs and relatively little price competition. However, most tobacco product markets in most countries are at neither extreme, but are instead highly concentrated with a small number of highly profitable companies accounting for most sales (see Table 3.2). As a result, the nature of price competition can vary widely, both across countries and over time, although globally competition is tending to decrease with the trend toward greater industry consolidation described above. Unfortunately, there has been little research to date on pricing strategies in tobacco product markets, with the exception of some limited research largely from the USA but also covering Jamaica, Europe and South Africa on the relationships between tobacco taxes and prices (discussed below). Instead, a few stylized facts emerge from observations of pricing strategies in various countries, from industry analyst and market reports and from internal tobacco company documents released following a series of litigation cases in the USA, which led to several major tobacco companies being required to make internal documents public. Limited price competition. The oligopolistic nature of most tobacco product markets (Table 3.1) tends to result in relatively stable prices with limited price competition, particularly in more mature markets in high-income countries where companies are better established. This appears less true for markets in low- and middle-income countries, particularly where the transnational tobacco companies are relatively new players in the market and more likely to use price as one strategy for gaining market share for their brands (Vateesatokit et al., 2000;; Szyilágyi and Chapman, 2003). However, as companies become more established, the extent of price competition appears to diminish, particularly in countries where incomes are rising more rapidly and consumers, influenced by industry marketing, increasingly switch to higher-priced brands. To the extent that price competition does remain, it tends to appear in the form of multiple price tiers (e.g. premium, mid-priced and economy brands). The existence of multiple price tiers, more likely in 34

5 Tobbaco industry pricing, price-related marketing and lobbying Table 3.2. Profitability (measured using EBITA Margin (%)) for Europe s two major tobacco companies and comparator European consumer staple companies Company * 2009* 2010* 2011* Tobacco companies British American Tobacco Imperial Tobacco Group Food companies Cadbury Danone Nestle Premier Foods Consumer products companies Unilever NV Henkel L Oreal Reckitt Benckiser Beverage companies Heineken NV SABMiller Carlsberg Diageo Table reproduced with permission from Gilmore et al., 2010 * Estimated values 35

6 IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention markets with wholly ad valorem or mixed tax systems (as explained in Chapter 2), will facilitate downtrading to cheaper brands, which may be of particular importance in markets at the end stage of the tobacco epidemic when smoking increasingly becomes a habit of the more economically deprived. However, in oligopoly markets, companies tend to have brands in every price tier;; thus the existence of multiple price tiers will not necessarily result in genuine competition. Price leadership. In more concentrated, oligopolistic markets, pricing strategies tend to be characterized by price leadership, with one firm (usually the firm with highest market share) initiating a change in prices and others almost immediately matching that change. As Chaloupka (2007) describes, cigarette pricing in the USA has been characterized by this type of strategy for the past century, with the leader changing over time, but the strategy staying constant. This is further described in a 1976 report on Pricing Policy from Philip Morris Business Planning and Analysis division: The cigarette industry is characterized by economists as a kinky oligopoly. This charming term implies that the general price level is determined by a small number of firms (price leaders);; that no economic advantage can be obtained by any one firm pricing below the general price level;; and that major disadvantages accrue to a firm which attempts to price above the general level. In short, the general price level results from some sparring among the potential price leaders, after which the rest of the industry accepts the resulting price structure. The report goes on to describe how Philip Morris had historically been one of the followers in the US cigarette marketing, matching the price changes initiated by American Tobacco Co. or R.J. Reynolds, but noting that by the 1970s, Philip Morris had become the leader: We no longer follow the market;; whether we initiate a price increase or not, our decision is a key factor in establishing a new industry price level, and we must examine any price move in light of our own judgement of the appropriate level. The report further describes how the relative absence of price competition in the market allowed prices to remain above competitive levels, generating high profits which were then used to support the other marketing activities through which US cigarette companies competed more directly. A similar pattern of price leadership, limited price competition and high profitability is seen in Europe, although markets where PMI is the market leader (most markets in western Europe) tend to differ from the United Kingdom and Irish markets because PMI is less prepared to lose market share by increasing prices, and thus price increases have traditionally been lower in these markets than the United Kingdom and Ireland (Spielman and Loveless, 2008a). This makes the United Kingdom market particularly interesting as a case study of industry attempts to maximize short-term profitability, as outlined below. A further issue worth noting is that of price-fixing, recently documented in the United Kingdom. The Office of Fair Trading recently fined two tobacco manufacturers and ten leading retailers 225m for price-fixing, decisions which are being appealed. The tobacco manufacturers involved were Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher, who jointly account for around 80% of the United Kingdom market (see Table 3.1). Each manufacturer had a series of individual arrangements with each retailer whereby the retail price of a tobacco brand was linked to that of a competing manufacturer s brand (Office of Fair Trading. release_attachments/parties_and_ fines.pdf;; co.uk/business/2010/apr/16/oftlevies-225m-for-cigarette-pricemanipulation). Prices below short-run, industry profit maximizing level. While prices in highly concentrated tobacco product markets are above the competitive level, they have historically been well below the level that would maximize short-run industry profits. This is likely to be explained by two factors. First, prices well above competitive levels would create opportunities for new firms to gain a foothold in the market by selling cigarettes at relatively low prices. As Chaloupka (2007) describes, this happened in US cigarette markets in the 1930s, when the leading companies at the time (American Tobacco Co., R.J. Reynolds and Liggett & Myers) set prices well above competitive levels (US$ per pack), using profits to compete primarily through their advertising campaigns. This created an opportunity for new firms to enter the market and for existing small firms to gain market share by selling at considerably lower (but still profitable) prices. Many did so with their ten-cent brands before the industry leaders responded by cutting their prices. The ensuing price war drove most of the new firms from the market, but two Philip Morris and Brown & Williamson survived, going on to become major players in the US cigarette market. 36

7 Tobbaco industry pricing, price-related marketing and lobbying More recently, the tobacco transnationals attempted to gain market share in newly opened markets (e.g. Thailand and Hungary in the 1990s) by price discounting (Vateesatokit et al., 2000;; Szyilágyi and Chapman, 2003). In addition, there were numerous new entrants to the US market after the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in part because loopholes in the agreement created opportunities for non-participating companies to enter the market and undercut prices. In most established markets, however, marketing restrictions make it increasingly difficult for new market entrants to compete effectively with established brands, and reputational and litigation risks provide further barriers to market entry (Gilmore et al., 2010). A second factor explaining price levels below the short-run industry profit-maximizing level, and one perhaps more relevant currently in at least some declining markets, is the trade-off between short-run and long-run profitability. As Becker and his colleagues (1994) describe, the greater price sensitivity of young people (as discussed below in Chapter 6) and the addictive nature of tobacco use may lead companies with market power to set prices lower than the short-run profit-maximizing level to get more consumers hooked on the addictive good so that longrun profits will be higher than they would be if prices were set higher in the short run and fewer young people took up tobacco use. To the extent that tobacco product markets are on the decline in some countries (e.g. in response to adoption and implementation of effective tobacco control strategies, including higher taxes), it becomes more likely that industry prices will rise to nearer the short-run industry profit-maximizing level as future prospects grow dimmer and companies try to profit more from the existing pool of users in the short run. This pattern is, for example, observed in western Europe where competition in most markets is limited (see Table 3.1), giving the industry considerable pricing power and making these markets the industry s most profitable globally (Spielman, 2008a, 2008b;; Euromonitor International, 2009). The United Kingdom market, as outlined above, is one of the most interesting, and analyst reports suggest that the industry has been able to increase prices sufficiently to offset both volume declines and negative mix (downtrading to cheaper brands) (Spielman, 2008a, 2008b). The fact that this may have been facilitated by tax policies is further outlined below. Furthermore, by virtue of having diverse brand portfolios in multiple price tiers, companies can utilize both strategies keeping some brands cheap to hook new smokers while maintaining prices on higherend brands to offset the negative mix and maintain profits. It would appear such practices may be occurring in the United Kingdom, for example, because despite a marked growth in discount brands (Devlin et al., 2003, Talking Retail, 2006) the industry is managing to grow its profits, and the United Kingdom market is among the most profitable (Spielman et al., 2008a, 2008b). Tobacco tax increases and prices The effectiveness of tobacco tax increases in reducing tobacco use and its consequences depends, in part, on how increases in taxes are passed on to users in price increases. The extent to which prices rise following a tax increase depends on multiple factors, most notably industry structure and tax structure. With respect to industry structure, economic theory suggests that tobacco taxes will be fully passed on to users through an equivalent price increase in a perfectly competitive market with constant long-run costs of production. At the other extreme, a profit-maximizing monopolist will pass on only part of the tax in price, with the pass-through greater as demand is more inelastic. In an oligopolistic market, however, how much or little of the tax is passed through can vary based on how the industry reacts. Harris (1987), for example, suggests that companies in a highly concentrated tobacco product market can use a tobacco tax increase as an opportunity for a coordinated price increase that leads to an overshifting of the tax, with prices rising by more than the amount of the tax. Using data from the years around the doubling of the US federal cigarette excise tax (from US$0.08 to US$0.16 per pack) on 1 January 1983, Harris observed that industry prices rose by more than manufacturing costs in the months leading up to the tax increase, with the rise in industry prices starting after the tax increase was announced. In the end, he concludes that prices rose by more than twice the amount of the tax increase. Harris (1987) hypothesis appears to be confirmed by internal industry documents. When asked for his thoughts about how to pass on an anticipated additional increase in the US federal cigarette tax in 1987, Philip Morris economist Myron Johnston recalled the industry s pricing strategies around the 1983 increase (Johnston, 1987): Last time, of course, we increased prices five times between February of 1982 and January of In less than a year, the price went 37

8 IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention from $20.20 to $26.90 per thousand ($2.70 more than the tax), and this fact was not lost on consumers, who could legitimately blame the manufacturers for the price increases. While price increases of this magnitude might have been tolerated during the rapid escalation in the overall inflation rate between 1977 and 1981, the increase in the price of cigarettes in was made even more dramatic by the fact that the overall rate of inflation was slowing considerably. Industry reactions, particularly by the dominant firm, however, can vary with circumstances. In the same memo, Johnston goes on to note how the overshifting of the 1983 tax increase had a particularly negative impact on Philip Morris because of its greater impact on smoking among young people, where Marlboro s market share was greatest. This led him to write (Johnston, 1987): I have been asked for my views as to how we should pass on the price increase in the event of an increase in the excise tax. My choice is to do what I suggested to Wally McDowell in 1982: Pass on the increase in one fell swoop and make it clear to smokers that the government is solely responsible for the price increase, advertise to that effect, suggest that people stock up to avoid the price increase, and recommend that they refrigerate their cigarettes to preserve their freshness.... Then when people exhaust their supply and go to the store to buy more, they will be less likely to remember what they last paid and will be less likely to suffer from sticker shock. As a result, they should be less likely to use the price increase as an incentive to stop smoking or reduce their consumption. Experiences with several federal tax increases in the 1990s and early 2000s show that wholesale cigarette prices rose by the amount of the tax increases or, at times, being absorbed by the industry (e.g. the US$0.05 increase in 2002). Most recently, however, the much larger (US$ per pack) 1 April 2009 increase in the US federal cigarette excise tax did lead to some overshifting;; Philip Morris, for example, raised prices on its growth and support brands (including Marlboro) by US$0.71 per pack and on its non-support brands by US$0.78 per pack. Given its role as the market leader in the USA over the past few decades, other US cigarette companies have generally followed Philip Morris lead in responding to the US tax increases. The limited empirical evidence on this issue, almost entirely from high-income countries, reflects this variability. Older US studies found that cigarette taxes led to less-thancomparable price increases (Sumner and Ward, 1981;; Bishop and Yoo, 1985;; Ashenfelter and Sullivan, 1987);; others found that taxes were fully passed on (Sumner and Wohlgenant, 1985);; and still others found that prices rose by more than the tax (Barzel, 1976;; Johnson, 1978;; Sumner, 1981). Most recent USbased analysis, however, find that cigarette taxes are overshifted in the USA, leading to increases in retail cigarette prices greater than the tax (Barnett et al., 1995;; Keeler et al., 1996;; Hanson and Sullivan, 2009;; Sullivan, 2010). van Walbeek (2010) observes similar overshifting of tax increases in South Africa (since 1994) and Jamaica (in 2005), while Delipalla and O Donnell (2001) found undershifting of cigarette taxes in 12 European Union countries in the early 1990s, particularly in markets that were less concentrated. Although there are no recent empirical studies in the European Union, as noted above the market has seen considerable consolidation in recent years (Hedley, 2007), and other evidence suggests that the undershifting observed in the 1990s (Delipalla and O Donnell, 2001) has reversed (Spielman and Loveless, 2008b). Although the countries in eastern Europe are in general at a different stage of the tobacco epidemic with volumes of consumers and tobacco sold still increasing, profits are also increasing as a result of industry price increases and consumers trading up to more expensive brands (Euromonitor International, 2009). With regards to tax structure, both theoretical and empirical evidence suggest that specific excise taxes tend to increase consumer prices relatively more than ad valorem excises, and hence lead to relatively higher reductions in consumption (Delipalla and Keen, 1992;; Delipalla and O Donnell, 2001;; Chaloupka et al., 2010). The higher impact of specific excise taxes on consumer prices is consistent with a greater possibility of overshifting of specific taxation relatively to ad valorem (Delipalla and Keen, 1992). Under specific taxation, any increase in producer price will go to the producer as revenue and therefore would increase producers incentive to raise price. Economic theory also shows that industry profits are relatively higher under specific taxation (Delipalla and Keen, 1992). Moreover, a tax increase may lead to an increase in profits when tax 38

SLIDE 1: Good morning; I would like to thank the organizers for the opportunity to speak today on a significant issue the relationship between tobacco taxation and public health. Much of the background

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